For older adults

There are many different ways that older people can be physically active. Some ideas include:

  • Incidental activity, which includes all the moderate intensity routine activities which can be performed as part of everyday life, for example housework, walking to the local shop instead of driving, gardening and raking leaves, and vacuuming.
  • Leisure pursuits that involve physical activity, including golf, lawn bowls, bocce, woodwork, and various types of dancing (for example, ballroom dancing, line dancing).
  • Structured activities such as walking groups, strength training, tai chi or other group exercise activities, hydrotherapy classes (exercise in water) and yoga. These activities can be done in a group or alone.

There are three main categories of physical activity types that can achieve improved health, independence and wellbeing for older people:

  • Endurance / fitness activities, where a major emphasis is on increasing the demand on the heart and lungs. Examples include brisk walking, bicycle riding, swimming and jogging.
  • Strength training activities, where the emphasis is on building muscle strength. Examples include resistance exercise, lifting weights, and stair climbing.
  • Balance, mobility and flexibility (stretching) activities, where the emphasis is on balance, walking, turning, going up and down steps, muscle flexibility and other mobility related functions.

Sometimes physical activities incorporate just one of these types of activities, while others (such as exercise classes and Tai Chi) may incorporate elements of two or all three of these categories.

The range of health benefits achieved is likely to be greater with a mixed range of physical activity options within or between days. In addition, having a number of options or choice in the types of physical activity available can increase motivation and increase the likelihood of uptake and longer term participation in physical activity.

Try to include some indoor and outdoor physical activities. Your choice of activities will be influenced by what benefits you want to achieve, what you enjoy doing, and what options are available for you. There are some health benefits that are most commonly achieved by performing one particular category of physical activity. For example, to improve balance and reduce risk of falling, an activity needs to incorporate some balance related movements, while the effect of endurance training on reducing falls does not appear to be as strong. Therefore there may be a preference for a particular category of physical activity to achieve a particular health benefit. However, if the aim is to improve general health, a mix of physical activity from the three categories is recommended.

Can I do it alone?

Some older people may need to participate in supervised physical activity (for example, supervised by a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist), especially when they are starting out. Examples of older people who may benefit from supervision are those with heart problems, respiratory problems, neurological problems such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, moderately severe arthritis, mental health issues such as dementia, as well as those with a high risk of falls.